Friday, 10 July 2015

'Trying out different fathers' - my thoughts on Omar Sharif

Had tears today, hearing that Omar Sharif has died. Sad for his family, but happy for him that he no longer suffers the ravages of dementia. To me, he is more than the handsome Egyptian actor who glittered in Dr Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia.

I grew up hearing that my father looked like Omar Sharif. My father was my mother's first husband, she met him in the sixties when he was a doctor and she was a nurse, a Mills & Boon romance without the happy ending. My father died in tragic circumstances when I was eight. My memories of him are hazy. He looks handsome in photos, and I can definitely see the resemblance (though I think Omar had the edge). When I first saw Dr Zhivago - aged thirteen? - I couldn't watch Omar Sharif without thinking of  my father. The tram scene had me weeping, and not just because Yuri  doesn't get to see Julie Christie again. I've since seen Dr Zhivago many times over the years, and the tram scene is me watching my father dying, which sounds fanciful, but that is the truth. My memory also tells me that I first saw Dr Zhivago in Karachi, when we visited in 1974 (after my father had passed away), but that is not true, I watched it a few years later at the cinema in Glasgow.

And I still can't even listen to Lara's Theme without welling up.

In May, when the media revealed that Omar Sharif had dementia I had a lump in my throat, having recently lost my beloved stepfather to dementia. To know that this brilliant actor now had dementia  touched me. And when my stepfather passed away, five months ago, I was unable to contemplate even a sentence of the novella I've been slowly, slowly, slowly writing, based on my father. My head was full of Greenland, there was no room for Karachi (my father was my father for eight years, my stepfather was my father for thirty-eight years).

The character based on my father is called Omar, I'd juggled many names but Omar fits best. Recently, I've ventured back to the novella when I have 'spare' energy - creative writing is much more physically and mentally demanding that you would think - but I'm a different person writing as I no longer have a stepfather, there is a huge gap where he should be. Moreover, fictionalising my father has its own griefs and complexities: I  think of Bernard MacLaverty who has spoken of 'writing as a way of trying out different fathers'.

I say to my mother sometimes, Did he really look like Omar Sharif? Yes, she says, he did.

RIP, Omar Sharif.  In the meantime, I will try out different fathers.

*I watched Monsieur Ibrahim last year, I recommend it.

** The character is no longer Omar, but I am not saying who he is now, don't want to jinx.



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